A young man claiming he worked in the White House gave me this report shortly after President George W. Bush told Tim Russert that “I expected there to be stockpiles of weapons [in Iraq]” (“Meet the Press,” 2/8/04).
At a White House staff meeting, the best and brightest of our extreme right, fundamentalist Christian gang discussed the logical flaw in the President’s answer to Russert.
“Let’s assume Bush was telling the truth,” I told the others. “He actually thought Saddam Hussein possessed the deadly WMDs described by the President and so did his leading Cabinet members. So, wouldn’t Saddam presumably have employed these deadly arms against US troops when they invaded?
The White House staff stared stupidly at me. A few nodded in agreement.
“Luckily, Russert didn’t ask if the president had thought about the consequences before he ordered the invasion, namely sacrificing up to 130,000 US servicemen and women.” “But it won’t take long,” I continued, “before even the slow-witted Democrats see the crack in the logic. I can hear John Kerry now.
‘If Saddam truly had what Bush said he had, he would have used nuclear, chemical and biological weapons being the ruthless madman that Bush said he was against our troops. The losses to American life and limb would have proven incalculable. So, if you believe Bush, you must conclude that he was either willing to sacrifice the lives of over a hundred thousand of our men and women; or he was a liar; or he possesses no capacity for logical thinking.’
“Had Russert pursued the President’s logic,” I offered, “he might have asked him why he didn’t allow the UN inspectors to stay on indefinitely in Iraq. We could have fed them our intelligence albeit it might not have helped anyone. If our signal or aerial intelligence yielded likely sites for WMDs, we could have informed the inspectors who would then have demolished them without loss of life.”
The staff glared at me.
“With sanctions against Saddam and the world supporting the inspections team,” I explained, “the Iraqi dictator would have had no chance to use his weapons against US servicemen or anyone else. If a presidential debate occurs and the Democrat says, ‘So, Mr. President, what do you say to that logic?’ what will Bush answer?”
“Yeah,” replied one of my colleagues, attempting to jump on my logical bandwagon. “Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei (heads of the UN weapons inspection team that found nothing in Iraq) both agreed that Saddam had bupkis (Washingtonese for nothing) in his supposed WMD arsenals.”
I had them eating out of my hand, so I continued, keeping on eye on the imperious Karl Rove, our boss and taskmaster, who had started taking notes.
“I hate to bring this up,” I said. “But suppose a reporter asks the chief how he connects the war in Iraq with the war on terrorism that he claims he is fighting in Iraq if he himself has admitted that US intelligence has not found any direct links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda?
The White House staff seemed dismayed over my impeccable reasoning, which would eventually penetrate members of the press. “If the media figures this out,” one young man predicted, they’ll transform themselves quickly into piranhas that smell blood in the White House water. They will attack. The sluggish Democrats will repeat the flaws in the President’s logic and use it in the campaign.
In addition, they would quote ad infinitum some of the messages in Ron Suskind’s book, The Price of Loyalty, about that traitor, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s reflections. O’Neill told about an early 2001 National Security Council meeting at which he understood “there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.” O’Neill also claimed he was disturbed because no one asked “why Saddam had to go?” and “why now.” O’Neill characterized that meeting on March 19, 2001 to deal with California’s energy crisis “like many of the meetings that I would go to over the course of two years…The president is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection.”
I watched Rove, who obviously was trying not to show the sense of urgency he felt. He postponed the first item on his list, dealing with W’s National Guard service, and began to focus on the issue that would surely bare its ugly head. He could spin the media on the Guard stuff by handing over files that showed GWB had routinely received his National Guard pay check. Rove knew the pay records did not prove that Bush had actually showed up for any service, but it would postpone the issue for a few days anyway.
In 2000, almost four years ago, I recalled that some veterans had offered $3,500 to anyone who could confirm Bush’s Alabama Guard service. Of the approximately 700 Guardsmen in Bush’s unit, no one spoke up. Yet, the media had ignored it. Rove had produced some torn piece of paper without even GWB’s name on it that the NY Times accepted as genuine. Up to now, the press has assumed that the White House would not tell bold faced lies? After all, did people think Bill Clinton was still in the White House?
“At least Bush didn’t lie about sex,” I thought to myself, envisioning such a slogan on a bumper sticker before the November election.
I noticed a cynical grin crossing Rove’s face. Was he thinking of Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Hey, for the US public, what’s a minor item like war compared to sex? I bet Rove wished he could have gotten some of the publicity generated when Janet Jackson’s breast got bared during Super Bowl’s half time spectacle. Rove understands that he must keep up Bush’s macho image — how else can anyone explain the number of ads for Viagra and penis enlargement?–and encourage the advertising industry to continue inventing ever more ingenious methods of distracting people from the issues.
Events seemed to be moving faster than re-election plans. Rove had probably calculated that reporters like the New York Times’ Judith Miller would continue reporting that Saddam had WMDs and that some — even a minute quantity — would be found somewhere in Iraq, enough to shut down the critics anyway. But in lieu of any of the good fortune he had hoped for, he had been forced to concede to the creation of a Commission to Investigate Intelligence Failures.
Well, no use thinking about what ifs.
Rove spoke. We, the staff, were given the arduous task of presenting the President as a man who had remained on the offensive in the war on terrorism and that anyone who opposed him was a wuss or a traitor. Such a stance might keep Bush on the offensive and put Kerry on the defensive.
“Suppose,” I asked Rove, who didn’t seem happy with any more questions from me, “Bush is asked to clarify what he meant when he said to Tim Russert that ‘The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me as I look back was it was a political war. We had politicians making military decisions.'”
“If people begin to analyze that statement,” I said, “they might ask the president if he thinks of himself as a military official as commander in chief, I mean.”
Rove shook his head in disgust. I don’t know if he meant me or the boss.
I had one last thought, which I kept to myself. Suppose Gary Trudeau runs a Doonesbury series on this particular statement, and it runs for two or three week? I thought of all the smart-ass college kids who will read it and laugh, not only at the president but at me, who works eighteen hours a day to make sure that Bush actually wins in November. Well, if he doesn’t, Rove remembers 2000. There are other ways.
SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: www.rprogreso.com. His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. His new film is Syria: Between Iraq and a Hard Place. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org